Healthcare Technology Featured Article

July 10, 2012

Social Media Sites Useful, But Dangerous, for Healthcare Industry

Let’s face it: Social media has changed our lives forever. I know I communicate in a different way now. I’m ashamed to admit I just love to be able to shoot an e-mail or text to someone I’d really rather not have a conversation with. And I love receiving correspondence the same way.

But I’m not a doctor, or in the healthcare field, and social media is presenting special challenges to those who are.

"These social media sites have moved beyond the novelty stage and into the mainstream," said Michelle McNickle, quoting a recent white paper by Actiance. "They have become so pervasive that they have emerged as effective tools within the corporate setting as well. The line separating the recreational use of these tools from legitimate business purposes has become increasingly blurred."

Undoubtedly, social media sites can be a great way for healthcare professionals to network with colleagues and share health information. They can start a blog or join networks like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and MySpace. There are also online communities exclusively for healthcare practitioners.

But there are dangers, just about everywhere, from privacy to unauthorized use to theft of intellectual property, according to the white paper, McNickle wrote.

“Numerous legal issues can arise when healthcare providers use social media. These include issues related to patient privacy, fraud and abuse, tax-exempt status, and physician licensing,” said Ike Willett, an attorney who works as an associate in the health care and life sciences group of the law offices of Baker & Daniels LLP, in a white paper by South University.

The white paper reports that a 2009 study that examined media usage by nurses found that 77 percent of the 292 nurses surveyed have visited Facebook, and a quarter has visited LinkedIn. Only 11 percent of the nurses use Twitter.

“Even things that seem like common-sense practices can be potentially risky,” said Carmen Carpenter, chair of the Bachelor of Health Sciences program at South University. “What if I say as a physician or nurse to ‘take an aspirin’ on a website and someone does and has a negative reaction to it? It could be a potential liability.”

One of the biggest threats to healthcare organizations is data breaches, which can occur when someone purposely or inadvertently does not secure information left on a laptop or tablet. Nicole Lewis reported in January that healthcare IT managers could expect to see more patient data breaches (and lawsuits) in 2012. Data breaches cost healthcare organizations $214 per patient, and the U.S. healthcare industry over $6 billion in 2011.

Edited by Braden Becker

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